Hardman #4 – Pimp for the Dead
by Ralph Dennis
Publisher: Popular Library
Summary: Hardman is back in a story of hookers, murder, and organized crime that is set on Atlanta’s mean streets. War and Peace it ain’t, but Pimp for the Dead is an easy-reading action story that is a cut above most pulp fiction.
Review: The largely-forgotten, twelve-novel Hardman series is better than one would expect. The series stars Jim Hardman, an Atlanta ex-cop turned unlicensed private eye. Hardman does dirty jobs with his buddy, Hump Evans – a black, ex-pro football player. It doesn’t sound promising, but these hardboiled books are pretty good.
In Pimp for the Dead, one of Hardman’s old Korean War buddies sends him to look into the disappearance of a woman from a small Georgia town. Hardman finds that she has become an Atlanta prostitute. Unsurprisingly, his search leads him into a complex case that involves all sorts of wrongdoing.
The appeal of the Hardman series – as with many hardboiled books – is that it gives the reader a tour of Atlanta’s gutters. The following description of one Atlanta bar provides an example of Dennis’ tone –
“The Hollywood is for the lost ones, the ones who are barred from most of the other taverns in town. They sit over their bottle or pitcher like a man over his last meal. Make it last, taste every drop” (p. 41).
Adding to the mood are Hardman and Hump, two very imperfect heroes. They accept any type of work that comes along, including drug dealing. Hump is also very sexist. In Pimp, Hardman describes himself –
“Without the tie, I looked a little seedy. With it, I didn’t look much better” (p. 44).
Though largely a conventional pulp novel, Pimp contains some aspects that set it apart from the pack. For instance, Dennis adds a coded diary that Hardman must decipher. Also, he disguises one character’s identity. Finally, Dennis includes a twist ending that works, even if it is a bit confusing. There are several other nice touches as well.
Though Pimp is a good pulp novel, the book falters in places. When Dennis attempts to slow the pace and develop Hardman’s character, it can be jarring. This is the case in Pimp when Dennis creates subplots involving Hardman a) planting a garden and b) adopting some cats. The “gardening material” is OK, but the cat angle is misplaced. Another odd aspect is that one of the hookers is a dwarf. This adds nothing to the story and the reader wonders what Dennis was thinking.
Perhaps these odd notes arise because Dennis wrote the novels in a hurry – publishing seven Hardman novels in 1974 alone.
Pimp for the Dead is one of the better novels (of the six I’ve read) in this unfairly-neglected series. Hardboiled fans will want to check out Pimp – or one of the other novels in the series.